I'm really not sure where to even begin with Sunday's Detroit Lions game. It was one of the wildest, wackiest, outrageous games I've ever witnessed not just in football, but in sports in general. Just how crazy are we talking here? For starters, the Lions were down 41-27 with 1:16 left after the Tennessee Titans scored on a 72-yard fumble return for a touchdown (their fifth touchdown of 60 or more yards in this game). To make it even crazier, Shaun Hill entered the game for the first time at this point because of an injury to Matthew Stafford. Despite coming in cold, Hill led the Lions to two touchdowns in a span of 18 seconds to tie the game thanks to an onside kick and a Hail Mary to Titus Young on the final play of regulation.
All of this craziness resulted in the game going to overtime, where the Titans got a field goal and the Lions botched a fourth-and-one inside the Tennessee 10-yard line to end the game. The Titans managed to hang on to win by a score of 44-41 in a game that nobody will ever forget, especially the Lions considering they came back in miraculous fashion only to lose in the end.
There weren't a whole lot of signs of the impending craziness early on in this game, but there were signs of trouble for the Lions. Specifically, there were signs that something still wasn't right with the Lions' offense after they kept having to settle for field goals instead of getting touchdowns. The Lions had the same problem last week, and history repeated itself in the first half on Sunday. On the game's opening drive, for example, the Lions couldn't convert a third-and-two and had to settle for a 47-yard field goal. Then, after Jake Locker fumbled a snap on the next drive and the Lions took over with good field position, the Lions came up short on third-and-seven and settled for a 53-yard field goal. Jason Hanson nailed both kicks to give the Lions a 6-0 lead, but the offense's inability to find the end zone was extremely frustrating.
The Titans bounced back from their turnover and had success moving the ball again. They did suffer the same fate as the Lions' offense and had to settle for a field goal after their drive stalled, but they wouldn't trail for long. I say this because after the Lions went three-and-out, the Titans returned the ensuing punt 65 yards for a touchdown. It was a play similar to the "Music City Miracle," as Darius Reynaud threw the ball across the field to Tommie Campbell after fielding the punt. Campbell had lots of room to run on the other side of the field and went down the sideline for a touchdown that gave the Titans a 10-6 lead. Here's a look at the play:
The Lions' response to the punt return touchdown was another three-and-out on offense. To make matters worse, Ben Graham came up lame on the punt return touchdown and was no longer able to punt. Jason Hanson took over the punting duties, and his first punt of the game went for 37 yards.
The Titans took over at their own 41-yard line, and three plays later, Jake Locker found Jared Cook for a 61-yard touchdown made possible by poor coverage and awful tackling. The Lions now trailed by a score of 17-6, and all of the momentum was on the Titans' side.
The Lions' offense actually did provide a response after this long touchdown by Tennessee. In fact, they drove all the way down the field into the red zone before the drive stalled this time. Once again, they couldn't convert on third-and-two, and once again, they had to settle for a Hanson field goal. He converted from 33 yards out, making this a one-possession game.
The two teams traded punts on the following two drives before the Titans picked up a 38-yard field goal to end the first half. The kick gave them a 20-9 lead, which really wasn't all that bad considering how bad the Lions looked during the first half. The defense was giving up a lot of yards to Locker and company, and the offense couldn't find the end zone to save its life. And let's not forget special teams, which surrendered a touchdown return and was without its starting punter.
The Lions needed a stand on defense to start the second half not only to set the tone, but also to keep the score close. That stand took a while to happen, though. The Titans spent the first 5:30 of the third quarter marching right down the field thanks in part to dumb penalties on the Lions and poor pass coverage. Thankfully, the stand did finally happen once the Titans got down to the Detroit 23. The Lions held Tennessee to fourth down, and Rob Bironas surprisingly pushed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide left.
The Lions wasted little time in capitalizing on the swing in momentum. Matthew Stafford stepped his game up and passed the Lions down the field. The biggest change was that he finally started going in Calvin Johnson's direction. Johnson had only one catch and two targets in the first half. On this drive alone, he hauled in three catches for 55 yards, and he set Mikel Leshoure up for a one-yard touchdown run to get the Lions back within one possession.
Things continued to go the Lions' way on the next Titans drive. Once again, Tennessee didn't have any trouble getting into field goal range. The Lions defense was playing with a "bend but don't break" mindset again, and it paid off when Bironas pushed a 48-yard attempt wide left. The miss gave the Lions pretty good field position, and they once again marched right down the field. Unfortunately, a holding penalty on Gosder Cherilus on first-and-goal killed the drive, but a 26-yard field goal by Hanson cut the Titans' lead to 20-19.
Hanson actually made a rare mistake by kicking the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, but it didn't hurt the Lions one bit. That's because Kendall Wright fumbled two plays into the Titans' next drive. Chris Houston stripped the ball out of Wright's hands and DeAndre Levy fell on it at the Tennessee 46-yard line.
The Lions went to the ground after taking over and pounded the Titans' defense with a heavy dose of Leshoure. He moved them down the field quite efficiently, and Stafford capped the drive off with a three-yard touchdown pass to Nate Burleson. Burleson also caught the two-point conversion attempt, putting the Lions on top 27-20 with only 6:53 to go.
The Lions only actually led for 12 seconds. That's all the time it took for Reynaud to take the proceeding kickoff back 105 yards for a touchdown. The Lions' special teams struggles haunted them again, as this game was now tied at 27.
Following a drive that really didn't go anywhere for the Lions, the Titans wasted little time in finding the end zone on yet another big play. Locker threw a pass that should have been broken up by Jacob Lacey, but Lacey never turned around. This allowed Nate Washington to basically pick the ball off of Lacey's back and go 71 yards for a touchdown. The Titans now led 34-27, and the Lions looked stunned. Here's the play:
The Lions got the ball back with 3:11 on the clock, and based on how quickly they were moving the ball down the field, overtime seemed like a very real possibility. That was, until Brandon Pettigrew got the ball ripped out of his hands after a catch by Alterraun Verner, who proceeded to run 72 yards for another Titans touchdown. Stafford came up lame on the return and had to exit the game, and with the Titans now up 41-27 with only 1:16 left, this contest seemed like it was over.
Somehow, Hill came into the game with very little time to warm up and led the Lions right down the field for a touchdown. He drove them 80 yards in 58 seconds and found Johnson for a three-yard touchdown. The touchdown came one play after a roughing the passer penalty negated a Tennessee interception that would have ended the game. The penalty and touchdown gave the Lions' new hope, and they delivered on that new hope with a perfect onside kick by Hanson that was recovered by Amari Spievey.
Following the onside kick, the Lions had to go 46 yards in 16 seconds to tie this game up and send it to overtime. After a pass to Burleson was ruled incomplete after one official appeared to rule it a fumble, the Lions ended up having only six or seven seconds left on the clock. Basically, they only had time for a Hail Mary, and on the next play Hill threw it to the end zone. The ball was deflected right to Titus Young, who unbelievably came down with it for the game-tying touchdown. Hanson converted the extra point, and thanks to a miracle play, this game was now going to overtime with the scoreboard reading 41-41.
The Titans won the toss to start overtime, and it was more of the same from the Lions' defense on the opening drive of the extra session: poor pass coverage and bad penalties. The first bad penalty came on third-and-16. The Lions had the Titans stopped, but a defensive holding penalty on Bill Bentley gave them a first down. Two plays later, Locker found a man across the field for a gain of 24 yards. The officials threw a flag for the big hit Stephen Tulloch delivered, adding 15 yards on to the play. That was before the officials decided to review the play and ultimately overturn the call. I didn't see enough evidence that the pass was incomplete, but the officials apparently did and decided to reverse their original decision. After making the change, the officials realized they still needed to mark off the penalty, and instead of going to the Detroit 41, they went all the way down to the Detroit 29. They must have thought the previous play was from the Detroit 44, because instead of 15 yards it was a 27-yard penalty on the Lions.
After this mess by the replacement officials, the Titans picked up another key third down conversion a few plays later. They couldn't do it again when they faced third-and-nine from the 15, though. They came up two yards short and decided to kick a field goal. Bironas' kick from 26 yards was good, giving the Titans a 44-41 lead. Thanks to the new overtime rules, the game was not over and the Lions had a chance to extend the game with a field goal or win it with a touchdown.
The Lions ultimately tried to go for the win, even though they didn't intend to. Allow me to explain. The Lions quickly moved down the field with a 17-yard pass to Pettigrew, a 26-yard pass to Johnson and a few good runs by Joique Bell. A seven-yard pass to Leshoure made it fourth-and-one from the Tennessee seven, and the Lions sent the offense out to go for it. Hill ran a QB sneak and actually lost a yard, meaning the game was over. We found out after the game that the Lions actually were supposed to try and draw Tennessee offside; the QB sneak was actually a "miscommunication," as evidenced by only Dominic Raiola and Hill moving. The miscommunication came at an awful time, because instead of keeping the game going with a field goal or picking up the first down, the Lions turned the ball over on downs and sealed their 44-41 loss.
The biggest story from this game is without a doubt all of the craziness that led to it ending up in overtime. However, the real story for Detroit should be the Lions' poor play in all three phases of the game. The offense can't keep having to settle for field goals going forward, just as the defense can't keep letting teams get big pass plays or extend drives with bad penalties. And don't even get me started on the special teams coverage units. Getting burned on the trick play on the punt return is one thing, but you can't let the Titans take a kick back 105 yards right after you finally take the lead.
There is also the injury aspect to worry about going forward with Stafford getting hurt. There was certainly no drop off when Hill came into the game, but this offense is built to win with Stafford at quarterback. Based on the awful play calling in the first half, the coaches may not actually be aware of that, but the Lions need Stafford to be healthy going forward.
Clearly, this team has a lot of issues. While rebounding from a loss like this won't be easy, the coaches have to get it together for when the Minnesota Vikings come to town next Sunday. The Vikings beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and they seem to be a much improved team from last year. Considering the Lions have seemingly regressed through the first three weeks, they have a lot of work to do before next Sunday's game.